The Japanese Wife sees writer-director Aparna Sen dip into her Bengali roots - her growing up in the milieu of Satyajit Ray and her father, film historian and filmmaker Chidananda Dasgupta.
The atmospherics of the film - from the Bengal interiors, the old home full of memories left by generations, the local mela, the vegetable market, to the Japanese kimono doll on our protagonist?s study - enthral you. It?s a world that enraptures you quickly, for its rustic innocence.
In this world lives Snehamoy (Rahul Bose) who, upon graduating from the neighbourhood village school, joins it as its teacher. The salary is meagre, just enough to maintain his and his Mashi?s (Moushmi Chatterjee) undemanding lifestyle.
A harmless exchange of words with a potential pen pal changes his life. His new friend is Japanese with whom he begins to converse over letters. The littlest, most nondescript developments are dutifully penned down to Miyage, who replies enthusiastically. They begin considering each other as their only true friends.
Mashi is now keen he marry a friend?s daughter, Sandhya (Raima Sen), and on hearing this, Miyage immediately proposes marriage to Snehamoy. He?s thrilled but concerned about Miyage adjusting to the hard village life and the only ?one common lavatory?. Circumstances prevent them from meeting each other, and several years pass.
The couple exchanges wedding anniversary presents each year - a symbol of their commitment to each other. Things take a turn when Mashi agrees to give shelter to Sandhya, now a widow and mother to an eight-year-old boy.
Watch the film to know what happens. You?ll never be able to guess it, unless you?ve read Kunal Basu?s book on which the film is based.
The characters are real people with uncommon lives. They?re ordinary, but dealing with an extraordinary element in their lives - a common thread in Sen?s films. Sen treats this unique love story with all the tenderness and respect it deserves.
It?s very interesting to note the reactions of Snehamoy?s neighbours towards his long-distance marriage - everyone, from the doctors (when he?s sending her medicines) to the shopkeeper (from whom he buys her sindoor), acknowledge his marriage with utmost seriousness.
It?s touching to see that Miyage feels this devotion and loyalty towards her husband, whose name she hasn?t yet learnt to pronounce correctly. The bits of humour, slipped in through the dialogue, are truly worth savouring.
Portions like the kite-flying competition are delightful for their visual imagery and drama. Background music flits ever so delicately between Japanese notes and Indian classical. Camerawork is delightful in capturing the sights of rural Bengal and the various moods of the story.
Rahul Bose makes for a wonderful Snehamoy, indeed making the director?s vision his own. This must be counted among Bose?s most nuanced, and ambitious performances.
Chigusa Takaku, an upcoming Japanese actress, plays Miyage with utmost depth and feeling. Moushmi Chatterjee is just a delight and plays her widowed character with a tinge of humour. Raima Sen?s character is not as layered as the others, but hers is an earnest rendering nevertheless.
The only drawback is the film?s pace, which won?t find favour with those preferring pacy storytelling. But so compelling is the narration, you?re tempted to be patient.
It?s a lilting fairytale, and like all fantasies, the unlikeness of the premise is striking. But then Aparna Sen doesn?t call this her love poem for nothing.
Rating: 3.5 stars